Traditionally, role players do not crack All-Star rosters without an extraordinary circumstance forcing their name into the discussion. Think 33-year-old Kyle Korver—who filled in for an injured Dwyane Wade in 2015—averaging 12.7 points with a 14.3 usage rate on the 43-11 Atlanta Hawks. He was a huge part of that team’s success, made over half his threes, and defied norms by contributing in myriad ways that couldn’t be accounted for entirely by statistics. In other words, Korver was an outlier.
Four years later, we’re neck deep in an era that increasingly appreciates why that type of specialist matters: Spacing, unselfishness, and man movement correlate with success. Our best three-point shooters are more valuable every day. On and off the ball, their fingerprints are on every offensive possession. They make life easier for teammates, and, when used correctly, draw enough notice to widen the parameters of what an All-Star truly is, or can be.
JJ Redick might be the best example right now. As an irreplaceable cog on a team that has the league’s fifth-highest winning percentage—and wouldn’t be able to deploy the playing style they’ve embraced without him—Redick is good enough to guarantee that his team will stay in the black. He isn’t better than Bradley Beal, Khris Middleton, or Victor Oladipo—even though, at 22nd in the league, he’s higher in Offensive Real Plus-Minus than all of them. But in a league that’s never been more loaded with great shooters who know how to leverage their gravity, Redick is a guru, always moving when he should and standing still when he needs to. (Of the 128 players who run at least two miles in every game, only seven average a faster speed on offense than the 34-year-old.)
Some might view him as the most recognizable face in an otherwise unglamorous supporting cast. Sublime background music, but background music nonetheless. That’s selling his worth way short. Redick obliterates defensive gameplans, from on-court structural decisions to rotational choices that have to account for his minutes. (Example: in a recent win over the Los Angeles Clippers, Doc Rivers went out of his way to make sure Avery Bradley’s playing time lined up with Redick’s.)
Redick is a never-ending nuisance who will torch any defense that isn’t constantly prepared to help from the weak side. Given that he allows Brett Brown to play how Brett Brown wants to play, it’s not crazy to say that Joel Embiid is the only Sixer more critical to Philly’s short-term success; Redick’s usage rate is wedged in front of Ben Simmons and behind Jimmy Butler, and his on/off impact is undeniable. Since the four-time All-Star was acquired on November 10 (a.k.a. after Redick re-joined the starting lineup on a full-time basis), Philly’s offensive rating when Simmons and Embiid play without Redick is an abysmal 91.5. When he’s with them, it rises to 112.7. Split those two up, and the Sixers are outright bad whenever Embiid or Simmons are on the court sans Redick. A similar offensive struggle applies to Butler as well. Redick is everything.
Simmons’s current limitations are much less glaring with Redick as a teammate; as a rookie, his effective field goal percentage went from 51.2 to 58 percent when Redick played, and right now it jumps from 52.7 to 60.7 percent. Gravity obviously matters, but so do all the supportive cuts through the paint Redick makes when Simmons has his back to the basket, or the off-ball picks that force a switch and let him crush a smaller defender. Earlier this season, one of Philadelphia’s favorite end-of-quarter actions began with Redick creeping up from the baseline to set a ball screen for Simmons at the elbow, ideally forging a path for him to rumble downhill into the paint. Once defenses caught on, the Sixers tweaked it by shifting more of the playmaking responsibility towards Redick, who now races up for a dribble hand-off that’s designed to yield a quality shot.
Redick helps each one of his teammates even more than they help him, from ball screens that discombobulate defenders who aren’t sure if they should switch or hedge before they melt into a puddle, to anchoring his own man 30 feet from the rim and opening a lane that’s wide enough for a Volkswagen. Redick’s CV over the past six years is written with liquid gold. His teams have been incredible on offense whenever he’s on the floor and far less than incredible when he sits. (Right now Philadelphia drops from about seventh to 18th in offensive efficiency. Overall, they're +193 with him on the court and -104 when he sits.)
Yet, even with those on/off numbers, it’s still hard to capture just how important Redick is, and how perfect his fit is on this team (or how much better he’d immediately make just about every team in the league). When you stack that discussion onto one about All-Star candidacy, there’s an intrinsic need to disentangle value from talent. Maybe there shouldn’t be! Redick’s individual body of work isn’t the best we’ve seen, but the reputation he’s constructed over the past half decade as an unfailingly reliable chess piece that consistently impacts winning should count for more than it probably does.
The first stat people use to measure Redick’s utility is three-point accuracy. A cold start to the season has him at “only” 37.8 percent—including a career-low 21.7 percent from the corners and 32.8 percent on open attempts—but as someone who’s made at least 42 percent of his threes for the past four years, there’s clearly no need to worry. Redick is up to 41 percent in his last 20 games and 48.5 percent (!) over his last ten. One out of every four of his shots is a long two, and he’s drilled a career-high 52.9 percent of them, which boosts his scoring average (18.3 points) to a level it’s never before been. That point total is the same as Kyle Kuzma and Josh Richardson—not exactly All-Star shoe-ins—but Redick’s actual baskets often feel like gravy when you watch Philly play.
He’s largely responsible for one of the league’s most threatening pick-your-poison sequences, wherein he starts in the corner then zips up for a dribble hand-off that’s designed to give him an open shot. Opponents will often try and take that option away with help, be it from the screener’s defender, as Marcin Gortat and Tobias Harris do below:
A stunt from the opposite wing:
Or they’ll pray Redick’s man can fight over/under the screen and somehow bother the shot without fouling:
Teams know it’s coming, and when they overplay it Redick darts back towards where he started and either gets an open look or runway to the basket.
The case for Redick as an All-Star, on a team that already has Embiid, Butler, and Simmons, in a conference with Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker, Beal, Oladipo, and others, is borderline unrealistic. He doesn’t categorically fit in with that crowd: almost 90 percent of his baskets are assisted, he can’t burn defenders off the dribble or create his own space, and needs flexing mastodons to prevent defenses from stymying all those aforementioned DHO’s with a switch. Redick’s usage has never been higher, but his True Shooting percentage is slightly below his career average, and even though Philly’s defense is terrific when he's on the floor there are myriad ways to attack him in the playoffs, as opposing teams tend to do. But who cares about all that.
In a relatively thin year, where role players like Pascal Siakam and Marcus Morris are nudging into the All-Star conversation, why not reward Redick for his impact on a team that, despite ostensibly already having three other All-Stars, might look like a house of cards in his absence? Redick is the best at what he does, and what he does is priceless.